*written for the Head2Head Songfic Challenge - October 2006*
Assigned Song - "Gravity" sung by: Josh Turner
A/N: Relativity -- A state of dependence in which the existence or significance of one entity is solely dependent on that of another.
Buck stared at the poster, lost in thought, until he felt Ike's finger poke him in the shoulder. He looked at his friend but still didn't know what to say.
*Well, what do you think?* Ike asked for the third time, his hands moving impatiently. It was early March and he was cold and hungry. They'd been trying to find jobs for weeks, without much luck, and this was the first promising lead - or at least Ike thought so.
Shrugging, Buck mumbled, "I suppose it can't hurt to try."
Turning again to read about the job, "Wanted. Young, skinny, wiry fellows. Not over 18. Must be expert riders. Willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.", Buck's eyes locked on death daily. Death didn't scare him; it never had. But putting his life on the line for people who hated him for who he was just seemed slightly absurd.
Ike moved to Buck's right and nudged him again. *We're orphans,* he stated, like that was a good reason to take this on. Ike hoped for some sign of enthusiasm.
Buck had been quiet and moody since the last job they'd had ended with them getting fired and Buck almost thrown in jail. They'd been working as hands on a large farm owned by a wealthy man. The foreman had accused Buck of stealing and the sheriff had arrested Buck and all but pronounced him guilty. That was, until the owner had the charges dropped. Neither Ike nor Buck could figure out why, but they'd been told to leave the town and never come back. And that was just fine with them.
After a moment, Buck faced his friend again and, with a discerning smile, said, "Yeah, and if they don't mind putting orphans in danger, I'm thinking they won't mind putting an Indian in danger either," he paused as he turned and stepped off the boardwalk into the street, "'specially one like me."
Ike rolled his eyes as he followed his friend and, pulling on Buck's arm to get his attention once more, said, *Look, a job is a job and we need money.*
"Fine," Buck said, holding his hands up in defeat and laughing at the exasperated expression on Ike's face. "Like I said, can't hurt to try."
As Buck stood off to the side with Ike, talking, he stole quick glances at the other boys. No one else was saying a word so Buck figured he and Ike should stick with sign.
*Interesting group,* he said, making sure to keep his hands hidden, in case someone could actually read sign.
*Yeah and they probably think the same of us,* Ike responded, grinning as he pointed to his bald head.
Buck smiled in spite of himself and began to really look around the place that could end up being their home for quite a while.
The clerk that had accepted their application was less than thrilled taking an Indian; though he didn't seem bothered by the fact that Ike couldn't speak. He'd even made Buck read the entire pledge. But, when Buck had proved that he could not only read but had also signed his complete name - Running Buck Cross - to the document, the man was indignant. In return, he'd looked directly at Buck when handing them their bibles, as he said, "Bible for your soul." Buck had picked up his money from on top of the bible and walked out. Ike had collected his money and both bibles and followed his friend out the door.
"Pardon me boys," a voice came from behind them.
They all turned to see an odd looking older man. He had straggly hair with a smattering of grey running through it, a few days of stubble and was wearing nothing but his long underwear and a dirty red scarf tied around his neck. He was holding his clothes and boots, bundled up, in his arms.
Buck and Ike exchanged glances. *This can't possibly be Mr. Hunter,* Ike said, mouth opened, as he stared at the man. At a loss for words, Buck just shrugged his answer. At that point, nothing the white man did would surprise Buck.
"'Scuse me, while I take a wash," the man said. "Y'all jus' line up by the fence over there, I'll only be a minute."
In stunned silence, everyone watched as the strange man walked over to the horse trough and, after shooing the horses away, climbed in. With a wink, he immersed his entire body under the water. After a moment, the shock was gone and the boys did as they were told.
Buck and Ike walked to the far end of the line and took their position against the fence, when a dark-haired boy sauntered over and pushed his way between the two friends. Smiling smugly, he looked first at Ike and then at Buck. Shaking his head, Buck said nothing, having dealt with boys, and men, exactly like this one most of his life.
Everyone was getting restless, peering over at the trough, expressions ranging from annoyance at having to wait to amazement that the man could still be under the water. Finally though, as bubbles rose to the surface, the man sat up and wiped his face on a horse's tail. Pulling himself upright, the man looked over the young men standing against the fence.
If any of them thought he was going to impart words of wisdom to carry each of them through life, they were right. Sort of.
"Bear grease boys," the man said, as he dipped his fingers into the container and scooped out a goodly amount of the mess, "secret a' health." He smeared the salve under his left arm and rubbed vigorously.
'What are we doing here?' Buck thought, staring in morbid fascination as the man completed his grooming by spreading some of the grease in his hair and smoothing it down.
Over the next couple of weeks, this man, Teaspoon Hunter, did as he'd told them in their first meeting; he 'learned them his bag a' tricks.' And, in response, they did as he had told them; 'they learned 'em good.'
Buck had been amused when, during the introductions, Teaspoon had tested him on his knowledge of arrows. Though the Kiowa wouldn't admit it, the arrow Teaspoon had made wasn't half bad. Besides, Buck was growing to respect the man and had found himself more than once listening to what the stationmaster was saying.
Everyone seemed to be falling into the routine and quickly learning all the nuisances of the job - everyone except the cocky one they now knew as Jimmy Hickok. He'd been having problems receiving the mochilla and doing some of the evasive maneuvers on the horses. It wasn't helping matters that the blonde rider, Cody, was laughing every time Hickok messed up. In retaliation, the hothead had, on more than one occasion, grabbed Cody and thrown him to the ground, pounding on him. Cody did give as good as he got, so the fight never caused too much damage. And Teaspoon would, after letting the two boys release some tension, pour buckets of water over their heads. Jimmy had had more than his share of unwanted showers.
Hickok's aggravation finally came to a head that day.
The other boys were relaxing, as Jimmy showed his prowess with his Colt, taking shots at cans lined up on the fence. It didn't take long before the cans weren't enough for Jimmy. He glanced over to see Kid, with his hat covering his face, lounging against the shed.
Jimmy approached the Kid and said, "Hey Kid." When he received no response, he kicked the Kid's leg. "Kid."
Slowly, Kid pulled his hat down and looked up at him.
Squatting down, Jimmy bragged, "I just hit three for three," he smiled smugly, "can you do that?"
Kid just nodded in response.
"Lead costs money."
When Kid gave that simple response, Buck looked at Ike. They both knew where this was going - and it wasn't going to be good. Cody, on the other hand, didn't feel the same and gleefully ran over to set up three more cans. Quickly, he returned to his position near the bunkhouse.
Nodding his head, Jimmy scoffed and stood. "Yeah," he muttered, taking coins from his pocket. He dropped a couple in Kid's hat and once more challenged, "Let's see."
Kid not only shot all three cans, he shot each one twice. Buck didn't understand why Kid felt the need to do that. Why hadn't he just shot the cans, matching Jimmy shot for shot? Had Kid figured that besting Jimmy would keep the boy from making any more challenges? Buck didn't know but when Ike looked at him and smiled, Buck couldn't help but return it.
*Why do you think Kid did that?* Ike asked, echoing Buck's thoughts.
Before Buck could answer, Jimmy's stance changed and he pulled back his jacket. Ike scooted towards his friend, as Buck unconsciously put a protective hand on Ike's arm. Kid didn't take the goad and walked away, with Jimmy on his heels.
Jimmy and Kid's conversation was interrupted by a man announcing that he'd brought them some supplies and the boys, especially Cody and Jimmy, were giddy when they saw the guns in the boxes. Again, Buck was witness to the white man's obsession with weapons and it was something he just didn't understand. However, Buck was happy to help move the guns to the barn, though he didn't stick around to look at them like the others did. He went off by himself to work with the horses.
Later that afternoon, as Teaspoon was putting the boys through their paces, Jimmy fell again. The stationmaster motioned Jimmy over to him and, though no one heard a word, everyone knew what the man was saying. When Jimmy threw his hat on the ground, the other riders exchanged solemn glances.
Buck wasn't with the others because he'd gone over to get Jimmy's horse, so he had a better vantage point and watched Teaspoon and Jimmy quietly as he calmed the animal down. He saw the pleading expression on Jimmy's face and in his eyes, no longer wearing the cool, confident look of the gunman he was trying so desperately to be. Buck heard the regret in Teaspoon's voice, as the man said, "Son, this just may not be the job for you."
Jimmy threw his hat on the ground. "Teaspoon," he said, his voice almost shrill, "I need this job." Jimmy glanced cautiously around to make sure no one heard him. No one could know the truth about him.
"I know," Teaspoon said, the sorrow apparent, as he put his hand on Jimmy's shoulder, "but you can't do some of the most crucial things."
Jimmy shrugged off Teaspoon's hand and, bending over to snatch his hat off the ground, stomped off towards the barn.
Before giving it a second thought, Buck followed him. Once inside, he quickly spotted Jimmy pacing the width of the building and waited until Jimmy sensed he was there. It didn't take long and the Colt was out in a flash. It unnerved Buck how fast Jimmy was with the weapon.
"What the hell do you want?" Jimmy grumbled, replacing his gun in its holster.
"You need to change your hand position and use your thighs more," Buck answered.
"What?" Jimmy asked, an irritated expression on his face.
"When you're riding," Buck said, simply. "Change your hands and..."
"What d'you care?" Jimmy snidely asked. Putting his hands on his hips, he glared at Buck. He was trying very hard to get the other boy to look away, and normally Jimmy was successful, but not with Buck.
"Look," Buck said, "I figured I'd help, you don't want it, fine." Buck turned to leave.
"Wait," Jimmy said softly, walking over to where Buck stood. "Why are you helpin' me?"
"I really don't know," Buck muttered. Then, he changed his mind and decided to be honest with Jimmy. Buck figured that if he was going to make a go of this, he needed to open up a little and let these other boys in. But, just a little. "I guess it was the Spirits, they guided me. I just felt a pull to do so." It was a simple, honest response. Buck waited for the laugh he expected to come.
"Oh," Jimmy murmured, not really being familiar with Indian beliefs, since the Judge had only held contempt for them and refused to do any business with the surrounding tribes. Jimmy eyed Buck warily; he wanted to trust him but he wasn't sure. Since Buck was still standing there waiting for some response, Jimmy threw caution to the wind. "I'm not sure I...I don't know if...I can't do it," he finally blurted out, staring down at the ground.
"Yes you can."
When Jimmy looked up into Buck's eyes, he saw only honesty and that Buck truly seemed to believe Jimmy could do it. Buck appeared to be offering friendship - tentative though it may be - it was friendship nonetheless. So, encouraged by that fact, Jimmy continued, "Seriously?"
Buck nodded. Without realizing it, Buck had offered his friendship to Jimmy in the only way Buck could. He would help Jimmy overcome the problems he was having with his riding and handling. He noticed Jimmy seemed a bit apprehensive.
"What is it?"
Jimmy squirmed a bit, not wanting to answer that question. "Maybe I jus' oughta leave now," he mumbled, "get it over with."
Confused, Buck looked at Jimmy as the other boy shifted from one foot to another. Suddenly, Buck recognized the actions - he'd done them many times in the past. Especially in the village when Red Bear had pushed him into doing things he was scared to do.
"You're afraid," Buck stated, simply.
Jimmy didn't hear any hit of accusation, so he answered with a slight nod.
"There's nothing wrong with being afraid," Buck said. "I'd imagine you'd know better than anyone that sometimes it just makes good sense." Though Buck wasn't sure Jimmy had ever followed through with what he appeared to be, Buck was sure that Jimmy could. "The important thing is to know what to be afraid of."
Jimmy looked up, a sheepish grin on his face. He was beginning to actually like this boy so sticking around wouldn't be so bad. "I suppose so," he begrudgingly admitted. "And I guess this ain't one of those things."
Buck laughed the first real laugh since they'd arrived. He'd been very cautious and hadn't wanted to let his guard down. "No, I don't think it is. 'Sides, swallowing pride never choked anybody that I know of."
"Yeah, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth," Jimmy said, laughing along with Buck. Letting out a deep breath, he was actually feeling much better. "Come on, we'd best get over to the bunkhouse, or Cody'll eat all our food."
The two boys walked out of the barn and noticed that no one else was around. Quickening their pace, thinking that Jimmy's joke about Cody wouldn't be a joke after all; they hurried over to the bunkhouse. Just outside the door, Jimmy stopped Buck and, with a mischievous grin, said, "Oh, and Buck, you tell anyone 'bout our talk and I'll have ta shoot ya'." He laughed as he walked through the door.
Buck rolled his eyes and followed Jimmy in.
A few days later, a group of men rode into the station yard, along with a loaded down wagon. The riders were breaking some new horses and Kid was getting ready for the first ride. The excitement level was high and everyone was in good spirits. Especially Jimmy, who had passed the remaining stages and tests with flying colors. No one could figure out how he'd turned things around and he certainly wasn't going to volunteer the information. Neither was Buck.
"Who on earth is that?" Teaspoon wondered, walking towards the group. He noticed that the 'men' were actually one man and three boys.
"You Hunter?" the man called out, pulling his team to a stop. The boys jumped off their mounts and began unloading the wagon.
"Um, that's me," Teaspoon said, watching the boys curiously. Looking back at the man, he asked, "And you are..."
"Oh," the man let out a deep belly laugh, "I'm Newton, the stationmaster over at Split Rock."
"Well, glad ta meet ya'," Teaspoon replied, offering his hand to the man.
Newton gave Teaspoon's hand a quick shake. "So, these here are some of the supplies you need and we're out deliverin' 'em to the surroundin' stations."
"Mighty nice of ya'," Teaspoon said. Realizing that Newton's boys were doing all the work and his were just standing around staring, Teaspoon turned to the riders. 'Um, see anythin' you might oughta be doin'?"
The boys stood still for a moment before understanding dawned on their faces and they hurried over to help the neighboring riders. Once all the supplies were unloaded and put in the barn, the group of boys walked back to where both stationmasters were talking in the middle of the yard.
"Yeah," Newton drawled, "I've got the best bunch of boys around."
Not to be outdone, Teaspoon countered, "Oh, I doubt that. My boys can't be beat."
Soon, a friendly rivalry began and everyone was teasing each other. Cody was claiming the best distance shot position and Martin, one of Split Rock riders, disagreed. Begging Teaspoon and Newton for a chance to prove which one was the best, a competition was soon set up. That was, until Buck and Ike rode into the yard.
Without warning, Newton and his riders drew their weapons and pointed them at Buck causing a sudden shift in the mood. In response, the Sweetwater riders drew their weapons but didn't point them directly at any of the Split Rock riders; it was just to be prepared. Except Jimmy, who pointed his directly at Newton's chest. Ike shook his head, his hands flying, as he glanced from Teaspoon to the strangers, trying to get them to understand that Buck was a rider.
Buck held his hands in the air in a gesture of surrender but his dark eyes told a different story and the other riders and Teaspoon, the ones that had been by his side for several weeks now, saw it.
"Hold on!" Teaspoon hollered. "Don't anyone do somethin' they'll regret." He moved to stand in front of Buck and Ike and to face Newton. "These are the two boys that went to town for me, like I tol' you."
Newton holstered his gun, motioning for his three riders to do the same. "Truly sorry there boys," he said, smiling, though it didn't reach his eyes, "didn't know who ya' were." He walked over to Teaspoon and offered his hand. "Really am sorry, jus' don't know about some people these days. You know, who ya' can and can't trust."
Teaspoon glanced down at the man's hand and for an instance thought about refusing it. Unfortunately, his riders were going to have to ride through this man's station and it wouldn't do to alienate him. "Oh," Teaspoon said, taking the man's hand, "sure. But I'm not the one you should be apologizin' to." He glanced over his shoulder at Buck and Ike, as the two boys finally got off their horses.
"Um, right," Newton muttered, and stepped up to Ike. "Sure am sorry," he said, directing the apology to Ike without even looking at Buck. Not waiting for Ike to respond and not caring what Buck did, he turned his back to them and motioned for his boys to get their horses.
Doing everything in his power to keep his anger in check, Teaspoon asked, "You all stayin'?"
"What?" Newton snapped, but softened when he saw who had asked. He'd heard about this Hunter character and didn't want to be on his bad side. Plus, he'd seen how fast the Hickok boy was with his gun. "Oh, um, no, we've got more to deliver."
"Well, hope you have a safe ride," Teaspoon said, smiling, though his eyes were points of steel as he glared at the man. He stood beside Buck as he spoke, making sure that the other stationmaster understood the unspoken promise. If anything were to happen to any of his riders, and it had anything to do with Newton and his station, there'd be hell to pay.
Though the riders had lowered their guns, they hadn't holstered them and so they all gathered around Teaspoon and Buck in a show of support as Newton and his boys rode away. Once they were out of sight, the boys holstered their weapons and Teaspoon turned to the riders. Looking them over, he thought, 'I'm not sure whether to shake their hands or kick their butts.
"We showed them," Cody crowed. "Ain't nobody messin' with us."
"Yeah," Lou agreed. "I can't believe they drew on Buck."
"Plain foolishness," Kid said, shaking his head. "Jus' because he's an Indian..."
As everyone excitedly discussed what had happened, Buck turned on his heels and quickly headed for the barn. Ike started to go after him but Teaspoon stopped him.
"Hold it," Teaspoon said, holding up his hand to silence the boys and stop Ike. He called out to Buck, "Son, why don't you..."
"Leave me alone," Buck snapped and disappeared into the building.
"What's wrong with him?" Cody asked, confused that Buck wasn't happy with what he and the others had done.
Ike's hand started to angrily move, but he was stopped again by Teaspoon, who was shaking his head. "I don't think they'll understand, Ike...in more ways than one." Exasperated, Ike threw his hands up and stalked towards the bunkhouse. If he couldn't talk to his friend, he certainly didn't want to talk to any of the others.
Sighing, Teaspoon said, "I believe it's time to eat." As he motioned the boys towards the bunkhouse, Buck came tearing out of the barn on one of the new horses. The riders stood dumbfounded, watching him race out of the yard.
"Well, why'd he do that?" Kid asked.
"Come on," Teaspoon barked.
The boys walked towards the bunkhouse, following Teaspoon. Jimmy was slower than the others, watching the fading figure in the distance. He was beginning to understand why Buck had helped him, and he was pretty sure it was time to return the favor.
Dinner that night was a mixed affair. Though everyone talked enthusiastically about the first ride and was teasing Kid about all the possible problems he'd run into, the riders mostly kept the banter to a minimum. Everyone still felt the tension from the exchange earlier that day.
Without a word, Buck had ridden back into the station a couple of hours after his departure. He hadn't told anyone where he'd gone, not even Ike. In fact, he hadn't spoken to anyone since his outburst. He just sat silently at the table, pushing his food around on his plate.
Looking up during one of the more animated conversations, Buck watched Ike interact with the others. 'They like him,' he thought sadly, 'and he likes them.'
As Lou guessed what Ike was signing and everyone cheered when Ike eagerly nodded, Buck realized that he hadn't been asked as much to translate in the last few days. They were making an effort to understand the mute rider and were doing a good job of it. Crestfallen, Buck knew what he had to do and that he needed to do it immediately because if he waited, it would be too hard. A calm fell over him as he'd reached his decision.
He'd leave that night.
The first quarter moon was low as Buck made his way quietly to the barn. He'd waited until he was sure the others were asleep, listening for the deep breathing of sound sleep. Opening the door, he crept inside and quickly began readying his horse.
They'd each been issued a primary horse, with the option to buy the animal. Teaspoon had been nice enough to actually let the boys pick out their own mounts, which was technically against company policy. The company didn't want any of the riders to become too attached to the horses; they didn't think it was good business practice.
"Phooey," Teaspoon had said. "How can a man not become attached to his horse?" Since he didn't agree with the policy, the boys had had pick of the herd.
Buck had left an envelope addressed to Teaspoon on the table, containing enough money to pay for his horse and the used saddle. Since room and board had been taken care of, he had spent just a small amount of his money - not that he really had anything to spend it on since he wasn't very welcome in town - so he'd had enough for the horse with a little left to tide him over until the next job.
'What next job,' he thought, glumly.
Buck jumped. He'd been so lost in thought he hadn't heard someone approach. Peering over the saddle, he saw it was Jimmy.
"What do you want?" he asked, sullenly.
"Well now," Jimmy chuckled, "if this ain't a switch."
Buck grimaced. "What is it," he snapped, "I'm busy."
"Yeah, well, I can see that." Jimmy walked slowly towards Buck.
Trying to ignore the intrusion, Buck busied himself with tying his bedroll to the back of his saddle and strapping on his saddlebag.
"You shouldn't pay any attention to that idiot Newton," Jimmy said.
"That's a bit hard when I'll be riding through his station," Buck grumbled, checking all the straps though he'd already done so, "not to mention, the towns with people just like those riders." Turning to look at Jimmy, the pain was etched on Buck's face. "I've been dealing with people like that all my life."
"But what about your village?" Jimmy had heard Buck mention living the first part of his life with his tribe.
Buck's laugh was harsh. "Like I said, all my life." He turned back to his horse, not wanting Jimmy to see the tears that threatened. Again, he busied himself with the saddle though everything was done. Why didn't he just get on the horse and leave?
"Buck," Jimmy said, placing his hand on the saddle. "If all the people are like that then where will ya' go? If what ya' say is true, the one person that cares about ya' is here."
Buck said nothing; all he wanted right then was for Jimmy to just leave him alone. He didn't want to think about what he was doing, he just wanted to do it. Finally he stared off in space and said, "When I was a boy, I could ride for many days, seeing no one. I could hunt when I wanted, the game was as many as stones in a river...but now..." Buck's voice caught. He really didn't know why he was telling Jimmy this or what it had to do with his leaving.
"Look," Jimmy said, softly. "I'm sorry for what's happened to the life you knew and for all you've been through," he paused, making sure Buck was listening, "really I am."
Buck looked at him and nodded, seeing the truth of the statement in Jimmy's eyes.
Jimmy continued, "But you've found yourself a new home. Don't ya' think you can make it work?"
"It's just hard...hoping for things," Buck said, walking over to sit on a hay bale.
"Yeah but the other choice is hopin' for nothin' and," Jimmy paused, walking to sit by Buck. He looked straight at his new friend, "then you'll believe in nothin'."
Buck sat for a moment, again thinking about what Jimmy said.
Jimmy saw that Buck was still not convinced so he tried one more thing. "Ya' know, there may jus' be other people here that'll grow to care about ya' as much as Ike does..." When Buck looked at him startled, he added, "Course I don't know who but I'd think someone would."
Buck laughed and soon Jimmy joined him. After a minute, the two boys quieted down and sat in silence. Each one realizing that they'd found something special, something to hold on to.
"I'll help ya' with your horse," Jimmy offered.
"So," Buck said, glancing at Jimmy as they walked over to the animal, "why are you helping me?"
"So's we can get some sleep," he answered as they undid the straps.
"No, why'd you come talk to me."
Jimmy paused in his task, musing over Buck's question. Then, a sly grin played on his lips as he said, "Let's jus' say I felt pulled."
Buck rolled his eyes and laughed.
The two quickly unsaddled Buck's mount and headed back to the bunkhouse. Just as they reached the porch, Buck thought of something he'd wanted to ask Jimmy since early that afternoon.
"Would you have shot Newton?"
Jimmy looked at Buck and grinned. "In a heartbeat."
Again the two busted into laughter, trying very hard to keep quiet. Finally they gathered their wits and went inside to get some sleep.
A figure emerged from the shadows, smiling smugly. Running his fingers under his suspenders, Teaspoon chuckled, "Relativity. That's all it is, jus' simple relativity."